The Dead Don’t Die 2019 ***

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‘This is going to end badly’ says cop Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) repeatedly in Jim Jarmusch’s zombie film, and he’s right, although if you’re looking for thrills or comedy, it doesn’t start well either. Jarmusch has a celebrated off-beat style; The Dead Don’t Die shoe-horns the director’s unique sensibilities into a conventional zombie film. And it is conventional; minor characters in the small town of Centreville wonder if the attacks that plague them could be caused by fracking or wild animals, while the protagonists debate the best way of killing zombies. Knowing dialogue references Driver’s Star Wars involvement, while late exchanges see Driver and Bill Murray discussing how many of the script pages Jarmusch has allowed them to see. Such fourth-wall breaks will alienate many, but they add layers to what seems a straightforward film; Jarmusch seems content to riff on George A Romero and his use of zombies to offer a critique on capitalism and that’s largely what The Dead Don’t Die offers. It’s a whimsical, evasive work from a great director, designed to be problematic and not for the horror comedy crowd, despite some gore and some smart moments. As a side note, Tilda Swinton’s appearance as a quirky Scottish mortician is regrettable; while she herself is Scottish, leaning into racist stereotypes seems to be part of her on-going campaign to alienate herself from her homeland. It’s only one small element in an anything goes movie, but the accent and the appearance are about as sensitive as blackface if you’re Scottish.

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The Man Who Killed Don Quixote 2018 ****

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99 cents is the humble rental price for Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a film so long awaited that other films have been made about how long it was taking; Lost In La Mancha details an earlier flurry of activity that failed to get Cervantes famous story onto the big screen. It has not been lost on Gilliam that spending thirty years attempting to tell the story of a man who famously titled at windmills has a poignancy all of its own, so finally watching The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is a strange experience; it’s initially hard to separate the film’s making from the story. The vibe is very 1989 in terms of a magic–realist narrative; An advertising executive Tony Grisoni (Adam Driver) slips back in time and finds himself in the company of the legend Don Quixote (Jonathan Pryce). Rewrites have allowed Gilliam to embrace the meta elements here; while shooting a commercial featuring the character of Don Quixote, Grisoni unearths his own student film on the same subject, and sets out to visit the locations, only to find the actor he cast is now living as the character. The production difficulties, which were not surprisingly many and diverse, have been detailed elsewhere; what’s on screen may not have the full sweep and scope of what the director imagined, but it looks pretty good, and evokes exactly the right spirit for a modern Cervantes adaptation. What Gilliam has not compromised is that The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is a text that the audience can get lost in, alongside the main character, over a 132 minute running time, and it’s almost certain that the same overwhelming effect would be what was intended when production started in 1989. Driver does well with a tricky role, Pryce is imperious as Quixote, and the episodic narrative blends scenes from the original text with some nice commentary. Trickling out unannounced on home streaming services may not be what Gilliam dreamed of, but fans of Gilliam, Monty Python and Cervantes will want to buy this one for a dollar or more; it’s a magical mystery tour mixing past and present, fact and fiction, film and literature, and the pleasurable experience of watching it snatches a secret success from the jaws of well-publicised failure.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07QNM5C4F?camp=1789&creativeASIN=B07QNM5C4F&ie=UTF8&linkCode=xm2&tag=justwatch09-20

Blackkklansman 2018 ****

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Spike Lee’s best film in a couple of decades is a true-life story that’s both weird and wonderful; the story of a black policemen who infiltrates the white enclave of the Klu Klux Klan, Lee’s film would be unbelievable if it didn’t happen to be based on a factual account by ex-cop Ron Stallworth. Played by John David Washington, Stallworth is tired of getting the wrong end of the stick at Colorado Springs Police Department and calls up the KKK membership drive. Stallworth needs a white face to complete his ruse, and Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) is prepared to be his other half. Once the men get close to the Grand Duke (Topher Grace), they discover a bomb plot that makes their cover story all the more risky. While Blackkklansman exaggerates Stallworth’s story for dramatic effect, Lee’s film is a gripping ride, with Washington and Driver both engaging, and the audience’s lack of knowledge about how the story concludes creating considerable tension. A final coda using sobering newsreel footage from Charlottesville hammers the message home, and Blackkklansman takes no prisoners in demonstrating how right-wing ideology can create moral danger.

Paterson 2016 ****

paterson4As gentle as the most soothing nature documentary, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is a minority interest film that will repel thrill-seekers, but slowly, carefully works up to some genuine magic for discerning audience. Adam Driver plays Paterson, a bus driver living in Paterson NJ; this co-incidence is the first in a series of dualities which infuse his everyday life. Glimpses of twins, the dreams of his partner Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) , even the name of his favourite poet William Carlos Williams, everything seems to come in twos. Jarmusch earnestly catalogues the daily routines as Paterson eats breakfast, drives his bus, walks his dog, visits his pub, and shares his thoughts via poetry to Laura. She’s encouraging him to copy his poems and show them around, but Paterson’s reluctance to share his writing threatens to create a singularity that will unbalance his life. Very little happens of note in Paterson, but after the first hour, there’s much of moment; Jarmusch’s film deals with the role of art and the artist is an acutely sensitive way, and Driver is a perfect centre as the gentle soul who struggles to reconcile his genuine artistry with his fragile relationship to his tiny but beautifully detailed world.